What is Animation


Animation is a method in which figures are manipulated to appear as moving images. In traditional animation, images are drawn or painted by hand on transparent celluloid sheets to be photographed and exhibited on film. Today, most animations are made with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Computer animation can be very detailed 3D animation, while 2D computer animation (which may have the look of traditional animation) can be used for stylistic reasons, low bandwidth, or faster real-time renderings. Other common animation methods apply a stop motion technique to two and three-dimensional objects like paper cutouts, puppets, or clay figures.

Commonly, the effect of animation is achieved by a rapid succession of sequential images that minimally differ from each other. The illusion—as in motion pictures in general—is thought to rely on the phi phenomenon and beta movement, but the exact causes are still uncertain. Analog mechanical animation media that rely on the rapid display of sequential images include the phénakisticope, zoetrope, flip book, praxinoscope, and film. Television and video are popular electronic animation media that originally were analog and now operate digitally. For display on the computer, techniques like animated GIF and Flash animation were developed.

Animation is more pervasive than many people know. Apart from short films, feature films, television series, animated GIFs, and other media dedicated to the display of moving images, animation is also prevalent in video games, motion graphics, user interfaces, and visual effects.

The physical movement of image parts through simple mechanics—for instance moving images in magic lantern shows—can also be considered animation. The mechanical manipulation of three-dimensional puppets and objects to emulate living beings has a very long history in automata. Electronic automata were popularized by Disney as animatronics.

Animators are artists who specialize in creating animation.


The word "animation" stems from the Latin "animātiōn", stem of "animātiō", meaning "a bestowing of life". The primary meaning of the English word is "liveliness" and has been in use much longer than the meaning of "moving image medium".


Before cinematography

Hundreds of years before the introduction of true animation, people from all over the world enjoyed shows with moving figures that were created and manipulated manually in puppetry, automata, shadow play, and the magic lantern. The multi-media phantasmagoria shows that were very popular in West-European theatres from the late 18th century through the first half of the 19th century, featured lifelike projections of moving ghosts and other frightful imagery in motion.

In 1833, the stroboscopic disc (better known as the phénakisticope) introduced the principle of modern animation with sequential images that were shown one by one in quick succession to form an optical illusion of motion pictures. Series of sequential images had occasionally been made over thousands of years, but the stroboscopic disc provided the first method to represent such images in fluent motion and for the first time had artists creating series with a proper systematic breakdown of movements. The stroboscopic animation principle was also applied in the zoetrope (1866), the flip book (1868) and the praxinoscope (1877). The average 19th-century animation contained about 12 images that were displayed as a continuous loop by spinning a device manually. The flip book often contained more pictures and had a beginning and end, but its animation would not last longer than a few seconds. The first to create much longer sequences seems to have been Charles-Émile Reynaud, who between 1892 and 1900 had much success with his 10- to 15-minute-long Pantomimes Lumineuses.

Silent era

When cinematography eventually broke through in 1895 after animated pictures had been known for decades, the wonder of the realistic details in the new medium was seen as its biggest accomplishment. Animation on film was not commercialized until a few years later by manufacturers of optical toys, with chromolithography film loops (often traced from live-action footage) for adapted toy magic lanterns intended for kids to use at home. It would take some more years before animation reached movie theaters.

After earlier experiments by movie pioneers J. Stuart Blackton, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, Segundo de Chomón, and Edwin S. Porter (among others), Blackton's The Haunted Hotel (1907) was the first huge stop motion success, baffling audiences by showing objects that apparently moved by themselves in full photographic detail, without signs of any known stage trick.

Émile Cohl's Fantasmagorie (1908) is the oldest known example of what became known as traditional (hand-drawn) animation. Other great artistic and very influential short films were created by Ladislas Starevich with his puppet animations since 1910 and by Winsor McCay with detailed drawn animation in films such as Little Nemo (1911) and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).

During the 1910s, the production of animated "cartoons" became an industry in the US. Successful producer John Randolph Bray and animator Earl Hurd, patented the cel animation process that dominated the animation industry for the rest of the century. Felix the Cat, who debuted in 1919, became the first animated superstar.

American golden age

In 1928, Steamboat Willie, featuring Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, popularized film with synchronized sound and put Walt Disney's studio at the forefront of the animation industry. In 1932, Disney also introduced the innovation of full color (in Flowers and Trees) as part of a three-year-long exclusive deal with Technicolor.

The enormous success of Mickey Mouse is seen as the start of the golden age of American animation that would last until the 1960s. The United States dominated the world market of animation with a plethora of cel-animated theatrical shorts. Several studios would introduce characters that would become very popular and would have long-lasting careers, including Walt Disney Productions' Goofy (1932) and Donald Duck (1934), Warner Bros. Cartoons' Looney Tunes characters like Daffy Duck (1937), Bugs Bunny (1938/1940), Tweety (1941/1942), Sylvester the Cat (1945), Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner (1949), Fleischer Studios/Paramount Cartoon Studios' Betty Boop (1930), Popeye (1933), Superman (1941) and Casper (1945), MGM cartoon studio's Tom and Jerry (1940) and Droopy, Walter Lantz Productions/Universal Studio Cartoons' Woody Woodpecker (1940), Terrytoons/20th Century Fox's Mighty Mouse (1942) and United Artists' Pink Panther (1963).

Features before CGI

In 1917, Italian-Argentine director Quirino Cristiani made the first feature-length film El Apóstol (now lost), which became a critical and commercial success. It was followed by Cristiani's Sin dejar rastros in 1918, but one day after its premiere the film was confiscated by the government.

After working on it for three years, Lotte Reiniger released the German feature-length silhouette animation Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed in 1926, the oldest extant animated feature.

In 1937, Walt Disney Studios premiered their first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, still one of the highest-grossing traditional animation features as of May 2020. The Fleischer studios followed this example in 1939 with Gulliver's Travels with some success. Partly due to foreign markets being cut off by the Second World War, Disney's next features Pinocchio, Fantasia (both 1940) and Fleischer Studios' second animated feature Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941/1942) failed at the box office. For decades afterwards Disney would be the only American studio to regularly produce animated features, until Ralph Bakshi became the first to also release more than a handful features. Sullivan-Bluth Studios began to regularly produce animated features starting with An American Tail in 1986.

Although relatively few titles became as successful as Disney's features, other countries developed their own animation industries that produced both short and feature theatrical animations in a wide variety of styles, relatively often including stop motion and cutout animation techniques. Russia's Soyuzmultfilm animation studio, founded in 1936, produced 20 films (including shorts) per year on average and reached 1,582 titles in 2018. China, Czechoslovakia / Czech Republic, Italy, France and Belgium were other countries that more than occasionally released feature films, while Japan became a true powerhouse of animation production, with its own recognizable and influential anime style of effective limited animation.


Animation became very popular on television since the 1950s, when television sets started to become common in most developed countries. Cartoons were mainly programmed for children, on convenient time slots, and especially US youth spent many hours watching Saturday-morning cartoons. Many classic cartoons found a new life on the small screen and by the end of the 1950s, production of new animated cartoons started to shift from theatrical releases to TV series. Hanna-Barbera Productions was especially prolific and had huge hit series, such as The Flintstones (1960–1966) (the first prime time animated series), Scooby-Doo (since 1969) and Belgian co-production The Smurfs (1981–1989). The constraints of American television programming and the demand for an enormous quantity resulted in cheaper and quicker limited animation methods and much more formulaic scripts. Quality dwindled until more daring animation surfaced in the late 1980s and in the early 1990s with hit series such as The Simpsons (since 1989) as part of a "renaissance" of American animation.

While US animated series also spawned successes internationally, many other countries produced their own child-oriented programming, relatively often preferring stop motion and puppetry over cel animation. Japanese anime TV series became very successful internationally since the 1960s, and European producers looking for affordable cel animators relatively often started co-productions with Japanese studios, resulting in hit series such as Barbapapa (The Netherlands/Japan/France 1973–1977), Wickie und die starken Männer/小さなバイキング ビッケ (Vicky the Viking) (Austria/Germany/Japan 1974), and The Jungle Book (Italy/Japan 1989).

Switch from cels to computers

Computer animation was gradually developed since the 1940s. 3D wireframe animation started popping up in the mainstream in the 1970s, with an early (short) appearance in the sci-fi thriller Futureworld (1976).

The Rescuers Down Under was the first feature film to be completely created digitally without a camera. It was produced in a style that's very similar to traditional cel animation on the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS), developed by The Walt Disney Company in collaboration with Pixar in the late 1980s.

The so-called 3D style, more often associated with computer animation, has become extremely popular since Pixar's Toy Story (1995), the first computer-animated feature in this style.

Most of the cel animation studios switched to producing mostly computer animated films around the 1990s, as it proved cheaper and more profitable. Not only the very popular 3D animation style was generated with computers, but also most of the films and series with a more traditional hand-crafted appearance, in which the charming characteristics of cel animation could be emulated with software, while new digital tools helped developing new styles and effects.


The creation of non-trivial animation works (i.e., longer than a few seconds) has developed as a form of filmmaking, with certain unique aspects. Traits common to both live-action and animated feature-length films are labor intensity and high production costs.

The most important difference is that once a film is in the production phase, the marginal cost of one more shot is higher for animated films than live-action films. It is relatively easy for a director to ask for one more take during principal photography of a live-action film, but every take on an animated film must be manually rendered by animators (although the task of rendering slightly different takes has been made less tedious by modern computer animation). It is pointless for a studio to pay the salaries of dozens of animators to spend weeks creating a visually dazzling five-minute scene if that scene fails to effectively advance the plot of the film. Thus, animation studios starting with Disney began the practice in the 1930s of maintaining story departments where storyboard artists develop every single scene through storyboards, then handing the film over to the animators only after the production team is satisfied that all the scenes make sense as a whole. While live-action films are now also storyboarded, they enjoy more latitude to depart from storyboards (i.e., real-time improvisation).

Another problem unique to animation is the requirement to maintain a film's consistency from start to finish, even as films have grown longer and teams have grown larger. Animators, like all artists, necessarily have individual styles, but must subordinate their individuality in a consistent way to whatever style is employed on a particular film. Since the early 1980s, teams of about 500 to 600 people, of whom 50 to 70 are animators, typically have created feature-length animated films. It is relatively easy for two or three artists to match their styles; synchronizing those of dozens of artists is more difficult.



Traditional animation (also called cel animation or hand-drawn animation) was the process used for most animated films of the 20th century. The individual frames of a traditionally animated film are photographs of drawings, first drawn on paper. To create the illusion of movement, each drawing differs slightly from the one before it. The animators' drawings are traced or photocopied onto transparent acetate sheets called cels, which are filled in with paints in assigned colors or tones on the side opposite the line drawings. The completed character cels are photographed one-by-one against a painted background by a rostrum camera onto motion picture film.

The traditional cel animation process became obsolete by the beginning of the 21st century. Today, animators' drawings and the backgrounds are either scanned into or drawn directly into a computer system. Various software programs are used to color the drawings and simulate camera movement and effects. The final animated piece is output to one of several delivery media, including traditional 35 mm film and newer media with digital video. The "look" of traditional cel animation is still preserved, and the character animators' work has remained essentially the same over the past 70 years. Some animation producers have used the term "tradigital" (a play on the words "traditional" and "digital") to describe cel animation that uses significant computer technology.

Examples of traditionally animated feature films include Pinocchio (United States, 1940), Animal Farm (United Kingdom, 1954), Lucky and Zorba (Italy, 1998), and The Illusionist (British-French, 2010). Traditionally animated films produced with the aid of computer technology include The Lion King (US, 1994), The Prince of Egypt (US, 1998), Akira (Japan, 1988), Spirited Away (Japan, 2001), The Triplets of Belleville (France, 2003), and The Secret of Kells (Irish-French-Belgian, 2009).


Full animation refers to the process of producing high-quality traditionally animated films that regularly use detailed drawings and plausible movement, having a smooth animation. Fully animated films can be made in a variety of styles, from more realistically animated works like those produced by the Walt Disney studio (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King) to the more 'cartoon' styles of the Warner Bros. animation studio. Many of the Disney animated features are examples of full animation, as are non-Disney works, The Secret of NIMH (US, 1982), The Iron Giant (US, 1999), and Nocturna (Spain, 2007). Fully animated films are animated at 24 frames per second, with a combination of animation on ones and twos, meaning that drawings can be held for one frame out of 24 or two frames out of 24.


Limited animation involves the use of less detailed or more stylized drawings and methods of movement usually a choppy or "skippy" movement animation. Limited animation uses fewer drawings per second, thereby limiting the fluidity of the animation. This is a more economic technique. Pioneered by the artists at the American studio United Productions of America, limited animation can be used as a method of stylized artistic expression, as in Gerald McBoing-Boing (US, 1951), Yellow Submarine (UK, 1968), and certain anime produced in Japan. Its primary use, however, has been in producing cost-effective animated content for media for television (the work of Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, and other TV animation studios) and later the Internet (web cartoons).


Rotoscoping is a technique patented by Max Fleischer in 1917 where animators trace live-action movement, frame by frame. The source film can be directly copied from actors' outlines into animated drawings, as in The Lord of the Rings (US, 1978), or used in a stylized and expressive manner, as in Waking Life (US, 2001) and A Scanner Darkly (US, 2006). Some other examples are Fire and Ice (US, 1983), Heavy Metal (1981), and Aku no Hana (Japan, 2013).

Live-action blending

Live-action/animation is a technique combining hand-drawn characters into live action shots or live-action actors into animated shots. One of the earlier uses was in Koko the Clown when Koko was drawn over live-action footage. Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks created a series of Alice Comedies (1923–1927), in which a live-action girl enters an animated world. Other examples include Allegro Non Troppo (Italy, 1976), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (US, 1988), Volere volare (Italy 1991), Space Jam (US, 1996) and Osmosis Jones (US, 2001).

Stop motion

Stop-motion animation is used to describe animation created by physically manipulating real-world objects and photographing them one frame of film at a time to create the illusion of movement. There are many different types of stop-motion animation, usually named after the medium used to create the animation. Computer software is widely available to create this type of animation; traditional stop-motion animation is usually less expensive but more time-consuming to produce than current computer animation.

Puppet animation typically involves stop-motion puppet figures interacting in a constructed environment, in contrast to real-world interaction in model animation. The puppets generally have an armature inside of them to keep them still and steady to constrain their motion to particular joints. Examples include The Tale of the Fox (France, 1937), The Nightmare Before Christmas (US, 1993), Corpse Bride (US, 2005), Coraline (US, 2009), the films of Jiří Trnka and the adult animated sketch-comedy television series Robot Chicken (US, 2005–present).

Puppetoon, created using techniques developed by George Pal, are puppet-animated films that typically use a different version of a puppet for different frames, rather than simply manipulating one existing puppet.

Clay animation, or Plasticine animation (often called claymation, which, however, is a trademarked name), uses figures made of clay or a similar malleable material to create stop-motion animation. The figures may have an armature or wire frame inside, similar to the related puppet animation (below), that can be manipulated to pose the figures. Alternatively, the figures may be made entirely of clay, in the films of Bruce Bickford, where clay creatures morph into a variety of different shapes. Examples of clay-animated works include The Gumby Show (US, 1957–1967), Mio Mao (Italy, 1974–2005), Morph shorts (UK, 1977–2000), Wallace and Gromit shorts (UK, as of 1989), Jan Švankmajer's Dimensions of Dialogue (Czechoslovakia, 1982), The Trap Door (UK, 1984). Films include Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run and The Adventures of Mark Twain.

Strata-cut animation, Strata-cut animation is most commonly a form of clay animation in which a long bread-like "loaf" of clay, internally packed tight and loaded with varying imagery, is sliced into thin sheets, with the animation camera taking a frame of the end of the loaf for each cut, eventually revealing the movement of the internal images within.

Cutout animation is a type of stop-motion animation produced by moving two-dimensional pieces of material paper or cloth. Examples include Terry Gilliam's animated sequences from Monty Python's Flying Circus (UK, 1969–1974); Fantastic Planet (France/Czechoslovakia, 1973); Tale of Tales (Russia, 1979), The pilot episode of the adult television sitcom series (and sometimes in episodes) of South Park (US, 1997) and the music video Live for the moment, from Verona Riots band (produced by Alberto Serrano and Nívola Uyá, Spain 2014).

Silhouette animation is a variant of cutout animation in which the characters are backlit and only visible as silhouettes. Examples include The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Weimar Republic, 1926) and Princes et Princesses (France, 2000).

Model animation refers to stop-motion animation created to interact with and exist as a part of a live-action world. Intercutting, matte effects and split screens are often employed to blend stop-motion characters or objects with live actors and settings. Examples include the work of Ray Harryhausen, as seen in films, Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and the work of Willis H. O'Brien on films, King Kong (1933).

Go motion is a variant of model animation that uses various techniques to create motion blur between frames of film, which is not present in traditional stop motion. The technique was invented by Industrial Light & Magic and Phil Tippett to create special effect scenes for the film The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Another example is the dragon named "Vermithrax" from 1981 film Dragonslayer.

Object animation refers to the use of regular inanimate objects in stop-motion animation, as opposed to specially created items.

Graphic animation uses non-drawn flat visual graphic material (photographs, newspaper clippings, magazines, etc.), which are sometimes manipulated frame by frame to create movement. At other times, the graphics remain stationary, while the stop-motion camera is moved to create on-screen action.

Brickfilm are a subgenre of object animation involving using Lego or other similar brick toys to make an animation. These have had a recent boost in popularity with the advent of video sharing sites, YouTube and the availability of cheap cameras and animation software.

Pixilation involves the use of live humans as stop-motion characters. This allows for a number of surreal effects, including disappearances and reappearances, allowing people to appear to slide across the ground, and other effects. Examples of pixilation include The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb and Angry Kid shorts, and the Academy Award-winning Neighbours by Norman McLaren.


Computer animation encompasses a variety of techniques, the unifying factor being that the animation is created digitally on a computer. 2D animation techniques tend to focus on image manipulation while 3D techniques usually build virtual worlds in which characters and objects move and interact. 3D animation can create images that seem real to the viewer.


2D animation figures are created or edited on the computer using 2D bitmap graphics and 2D vector graphics. This includes automated computerized versions of traditional animation techniques, interpolated morphing, onion skinning and interpolated rotoscoping.

2D animation has many applications, including analog computer animation, Flash animation, and PowerPoint animation. Cinemagraphs are still photographs in the form of an animated GIF file of which part is animated.

Final line advection animation is a technique used in 2D animation, to give artists and animators more influence and control over the final product as everything is done within the same department. Speaking about using this approach in Paperman, John Kahrs said that "Our animators can change things, actually erase away the CG underlayer if they want, and change the profile of the arm."


3D animation is digitally modeled and manipulated by an animator. The 3D model maker usually starts by creating a 3D polygon mesh for the animator to manipulate. A mesh typically includes many vertices that are connected by edges and faces, which give the visual appearance of form to a 3D object or 3D environment. Sometimes, the mesh is given an internal digital skeletal structure called an armature that can be used to control the mesh by weighting the vertices. This process is called rigging and can be used in conjunction with key frames to create movement.

Other techniques can be applied, mathematical functions (e.g., gravity, particle simulations), simulated fur or hair, and effects, fire and water simulations. These techniques fall under the category of 3D dynamics.